The soon-to-be-revealed reality of the Apple Watch's healthcare capabilities will likely disappoint those who had been hoping for much more. The rumors were fantastical: at one point, the San Francisco Chronicle suggested Apple was interested in a watch that could predict incipient heart attacks. Reality could do nothing but fall short.
The Wall Street Journal suggests that adding more intense health monitoring was, in fact, highly interesting to Apple engineers and developers. A number of obstacles, however, blocked them.
Technical challenges arose. It was difficult to construct reliable sensors that laid on the wrist, for example. If a user had a hairy arm or dry skin, that affected the accuracy of sensor readings.
And regulatory issues surfaced, as they are bound to do in healthcare tech. Adding interpretative software would presumably raise the Food and Drug Administration's interest, which would probably be wary of unleashing a wearable heart-attack-prediction service into the healthcare system.
The contrast between the specificity of the Journal reporting and a recent mammoth New Yorker profile of lead Apple designer Jony Ive is a warning, perhaps, not to take speculation too far. The 16,000-word article mentions “fitness monitoring” once offhand, and does not get into healthcare as an Apple Watch function at all. This despite exhaustively excavating seemingly every detail about Ive's life since birth.
Still, it's probably too early to conclude anything solid about Apple's healthcare-and-consumer-product ambitions. The WSJ article says that the tech giant began developing the Watch four years ago with a “health and fitness focus.”
That timeline raises some questions. Rumors first buzzed last year when Apple- and tech-focused outlets noticed that the company had gone on a hiring spree. It was luring a number of designers and executives from medical-device companies, such as Masimo and Proteus Digital Health.
In some cases, the talent had signed up with Apple before then. For example, according to his LinkedIn profile, Apple's vice president of medical technology, Dr. Michael O'Reilly, came to the company in July 2013, suggesting that there are some details we haven't learned yet.
O'Reilly is still at Apple, as are (apparently) most of the other medical-device engineers who were hired. Unless they're just cooling their heels, perhaps we'll see more substantive health functions in version 2.0.
Follow Darius Tahir on Twitter: @dariustahir